You are here

Monitoring the behavior of pigs as an indicator of assessing their health and welfare level

Ethological observation and behavioral monitoring are important indicators for assessing the state of health, determining the level of well-being, and predicting the productive qualities of animals in productive pig farming. An important factor is also the possibility of using behavioral indicators for early diagnosis and monitoring of the course of diseases in pigs of different ages and areas of use. Behavioral tests are used to evaluate the nervous system, reactivity, reproductive and technological qualities of animals. There are many types of behavioral tests. As a rule, the same tests can explain one or more aspects of an animal's behavior. it was established that the following tests are most often used to assess animal behavior: backtest, test for a new object, new environment, person, new animal, etc. One of the most common tests to determine the behavior of pigs is the backtest. It is used to determine the stress resistance of animals. To do this, the piglet is placed on its back for 60 seconds and the number of struggle attempts and its sound response are determined. As a result of the conducted test, piglets were divided into animals with high resistance and low resistance. According to the authors, the behavioral reaction of piglets during the backtest at the beginning of life can indicate the level of coping with stressful situations at an older age. Pig backtesting demonstrated a relationship between the degree of resistance that occurs early in life and a variety of behavioral and physiological responses in fattening pigs. The human test is used to assess aggressive and social behavior, to determine the animal's emotional state, in particular fear, as an instinct for self-preservation. The novel object test can be used to study search and exploratory behavior. The novel objects tested were a rope, a pile of soil, an experimental glove, a ball game, a rubber duck, and a pile of leaves. An important test parameter of the condition of pigs is the assessment of their playing activity. It is believed that, subjectively, play is an expression of the satisfied state of the animal. The study of animal behavior is an important tool for assessing the conditions of keeping and feeding, the level of well-being, and the cognitive-emotional state of animals. Appropriate use of behavioral tests also allows for the assessment and prediction of features of social behavior, reproductive status and potential productive qualities of an animal.

Key words: behavior, pigs, physiological state, productivity, methodology.

  1. Kozii, V.I., Kozii, N.V. (2013). Stan ta perspektyvy vykorystannja doktryny dobrobutu tvaryn na suchasnyh fermah Ukrai'ny [The state and prospects of using the doctrine of animal welfare on modern farms in Ukraine]. Ekotrofologija [Ecotrophology]. Hidy, problemy, perspektyvy ekologichno bezpechnogo vyrobnyctva: materialy IV mizhnarodnoi' naukovo-praktychnoi' konferencii', prysvjachenoi' 10-richchju kafedry ekotrofologii' BDAU [Progress, problems, prospects of ecologically safe production: materials of the IV international scientific and practical conference dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the Department of Ecotrophology of the BSAU]. Bila Tserkva, pp. 85–86. Available at: (In Ukrainian)
  2. Koziy, V., Sokoluk, V., Kozii, N., Cherniak, S. (2016). Bioethical basis for preventive veterinary medicine in modern farming. Scientific Messenger of LNU of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnologies. Veterinary Sciences. Vol. 18(72), pp. 27–31. Available at: https://
  3. Smulders, D., Verbeke, G., Mormède, P., Geers, R. (2006). Validation of a behavioral observation tool to assess pig welfare. Physiol. Behav. Vol. 89 (3), pp. 438–447. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.07.002.
  4. Kinane , O., Butler, F., O'Driscoll, K. (2022). Animals (Basel). Freedom to Move: Free Lactation Pens Improve Sow. Welfare. Vol. 12, 1762 p. DOI:10.3390/ ani12141762.
  5. Litten, J., Drury, P., Corson, A., Lean, I., Clarke, L. (2003). The influence of piglet birth weight on physical and behavioural development in early life. Biol Neonate. Vol. 84(4), pp. 311–318. DOI:10.1159/000073640.
  6. Bolhuis, J., Schouten, W., de Leeuw, J., Schrama, J., Wiegant, V. (2004). Individual coping characteristics, rearing conditions and behavioural flexibility in pigs. Behav. Brain Res. Vol. 152 (2), pp. 351–360. DOI:10.1016/j. bbr.2003.10.024.
  7. Haagensen, A., Sørensen, D., Sandøe, P., Matthews, L., Birck, M., Fels, J. (2014). High fat, low carbohydrate diet limit fear and aggression in Göttingen minipigs. PLoS One. Vol. 9(4), 93821 p. DOI:10.1371/ journal.pone.0093821.
  8. Clouard, C., Gerrits, W., Kemp, B., Val-Laillet, D., Bolhuis, J. (2016). Perinatal exposure to a diet high in saturated fat, refined sugar and cholesterol affects behaviour, growth, and feed intake in weaned piglets. PLoS One. Vol. 11(5), 154698 p. DOI:10.1371/journal. pone.0154698.
  9. Barnes, R., Levitsky, D., Pond, W., Moore, U. (1976). Effect of postnatal dietary protein and energy restriction on exploratory behavior in young pigs. Dev. Psychobiol. Vol. 9(5), pp. 425–435. DOI:10.1002/ dev.420090505.
  10. Middelkoop, A., Costermans, N., Kemp, B., Bolhuis, J.E. (2019). Feed intake of the sow and playful creep feeding of piglets influence piglet behaviour and performance before and after weaning. Sci Rep. Vol. 9 (1). 16140 p. DOI:10. 1038/s41598-019-52530-w.
  11. Stracke, J., Otten, W., Tuchscherer, A., Puppe, B., Düpjan, S. (2017). Serotonin depletion induces pessimistic-like behavior in a cognitive bias paradigm in pigs. Physiol Behav. Vol. 174, pp. 18–26. DOI:10.1016/j. physbeh.2017.02.036.
  12. Johnson, A., Rault, J., Marchant, J., Baxter, E., O'Driscoll, K. (2022). Improving young pig welfare on-farm: The Five Domains Model. J. Anim. Sci., Vol. 100(6), 164 p. DOI:10.1093/jas/skac164.
  13. Simon, P., Turner Richard, B., D’Eath Juan, P., Steibel Ronald, O., Bates Catherine,W., Siegford, E.J.M. (2019). Animal personality in the management and welfare of pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 218, 104821 p. DOI:10.1016/j.applanim.2019.06.00.
  14. Horback, K., Parsons, T. (2016). Temporal stability of personality traits in group-housed gestating sows. Animal. Vol. 10, pp. 1351–1359. DOI:10.1017/ S175 1731116000215.
  15. Ponsuksili, S., Zebunke, M., Murani, E., Trakooljul, N. (2015). Integrated Genome-wide association and hypothalamus eQTL studies indicate a link between the circadian rhythm-related gene PER1 and coping behavior. Sci. Rep. Vol. 5, 5, 16264 p. DOI:10.1038/srep16264.
  16. Rostagno, M., Eicher, S., Lay, D. (2011). Immunological, physiological, and behavioral effects of Salmonella enterica carriage and shedding in experimentally infected finishing pigs. Foodborne Pathog. Dis. Vol. 8(5), pp. 623–630. DOI:10. 1089/fpd.2010.0735.
  17. Sankarganesh, D., Kirkwood, R., Angayarkanni, J., Achiraman, S., Archunan, G. (2021). Pig pheromones and behaviors: A review. Theriogenology. Vol. 175, pp. 1–6. DOI:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2021.08.032.
  18. Gupta, S. (2018). Systematic review of the literature: Best practices. Academic Radiology. Vol. 25, (11), pp. 1481–1490. DOI:10.1016/j.acra.2018. 04.025.
  19. Iversen, M., Bolhuis, J., Camerlink, I., Ursinus, W., Reimert, I. (2017). Heritability of the backtest response in piglets and its genetic correlations with production traits. Animal. Vol. 11(4), pp. 556–563. DOI:10.1017/S1751 731116001853.
  20. Geverink, N., Heetkamp, M., Schouten, W., Wiegant, V., Schrama, J. (2004). Backtest type and housing condition of pigs influence energy metabolism. J. Anim. Sci., Vol. 82(4), pp. 1227–1233. DOI:10.2527/2004.8241227x.
  21. Geverink, N., Parmentier, H., de Vries Reilingh, G., Schouten, W., Gort, G. (2004). Effect of response to backtest and housing condition on cell-mediated and humoral immunity in adult pigs. Physiol. Behav. Vol. 80(4), pp. 541–546. DOI:10. 1016/j.physbeh.2003.10.013.
  22. Reimert, I., Rodenburg, T., Ursinus, W., Duijvesteijn, N., Camerlink, I., Kemp, B., Bolhuis, J. (2013). Backtest and novelty behavior of female and castrated male piglets, with diverging social breeding values for growth. J. Anim. Sci., Vol. 91(10), pp. 4589– 4597. DOI:10.2527/jas.2013-6673.
  23. Geverink, N., Schouten, W., Gort, G., Wiegant, V. (2002). Individual differences in behavioral and physiological responses to restraint stress in pigs. Physiol. Behav. Vol. 77 (2-3), pp. 451–457. DOI:10.1016/ s0031-9384(02)00877-6.
  24. Van Erp-van, der Kooij E., Kuijpers, A., van Eerdenburg, F., Tielen, M. (2001). A note on the influence of starting position, time of testing and test order on the backtest in pigs. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. Vol. 73(4), pp. 263–266. DOI:10.1016/ s0168-1591(01)00145-9.
  25. Camerlink, I., Ursinus, W., Bolhuis, J. (2014). Struggling to survive: early life challenges in relation to the backtest in pigs. J. Anim. Sci., Vol. 92 (7), pp. 3088–3095. DOI:10.2527/jas.2013-7537.
  26. Nürnberg, G., Melzer, N., Puppe, B. (2017). The backtest in pigs revisited Inter-situational behaviour and animal classification. Applied Animal Behaviour. Science. Vol. 194, pp. 7–13. DOI:10.1016/j. applanim.2017.05.011.
  27. Reimert, I., Bolhuis, J., Kemp, B., Rodenburg, T. (2014). Social support in pigs with different coping styles. Physiol. Behav. Vol. 22, 129, pp. 221–229. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.02.059.
  28. Muns, R., Rault, J., Hemsworth, P. (2015). Positive human contact on the first day of life alters the piglet's behavioural response to humans and husbandry practices. Physiol Behav. Vol. 1, pp. 151–162. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.06.030.
  29. Sommavilla, R., Hötzel, M., Dalla Costa, O. (2011). Piglets' weaning behavioural response is influenced by quality of human-animal interactions during suckling. Animal. Vol. 5(9), pp. 1426–1431. DOI:10.1017/S1751731111000358.
  30. Rooney, H., Schmitt, O., Courty, A., Lawlor, P., O'Driscoll, K. (2021). Like Mother Like Child: Do Fearful Sows Have Fearful Piglets? Animals (Basel). Vol. 24, 11(5), 1232 p. DOI:10.3390/ani11051232.
  31. Hayes, M., Hemsworth, L., Morrison, R., Butler, K., Rice, M. (2021). Effects of Positive Human Contact during Gestation on the Behaviour, Physiology and Reproductive Performance of Sows. Animals (Basel). Vol. 11(1), pp. 214–220. DOI:10.3390/ani11010214.
  32. Kecman, J., Neu, J., Göres, N., Voß, B., Rosner, F., Kemper, N., Swalve, H.H. (2022). Genetic aspects for the behaviour of lactating sows towards humans. Animal. Vol. 16(7), 100559 p. DOI:10.1016/j. animal.2022.100559.
  33. Nietfeld,C., Straßburg,J., Krieter,E.,Beilage, G., Czycholl, I. (2020). Factors of potential influence on different behavioural tests in fattening pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 222, 104900 p. DOI:10.1016/j.applanim. 2019.104900.
  34. Menke, S., Straßburg, C., Krieter, J. (2019). Reliability of different behavioural tests for growing pigs on-farm. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 213, pp. 65–73.
  35. Fabrega, E., Velarde, A. (2009). Fear assessment in pigs exposed to a novel object test. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 117, Issues 3–4, pp. 173–180.
  36. Magnani, D., Cafazzo, S., Calà, P., Costa, L.N. (2012). Searching for differences in the behavioural response of piglet groups subjected to novel situations. Behav. Processes. Vol. 89(1), pp. 68–73. DOI:10.1016/j. beproc.2011.10.019.
  37. Marc, B., Bracke, M., Hans, A. (2008). Novel object test can detect marginal differences in environmental enrichment in pigs. Spoolder Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 109, Issue 1, pp. 39–48.
  38. de Souza, S., Thuanny, F., Pereira, L., Perruchi, C., Cristiane, T. (2021). Preference for and main tenance of interest in suspended enrichment toys in confined growing pigs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. Vol. 45, pp. 68–73.
  39. Krause,T., Glitz, B., Gallmann, E., Schrade, H., Schrader, L. (2021). Effect of plant-based enrichment materials on exploration in rearing and fattening pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus). Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 236, 10526 p.
  40. Lau, Y., Pluske, J., Fleming, P. (2015). Does the environmental background (intensive v. outdoor systems) influence the behaviour of piglets at weaning? Animal. Vol. 9(8), pp. 1361–1372. DOI:10.1017/ S1751731115000531.
  41. Ahmad, L.M., Sharifi, R., Gerken, M. (2019). Behavioural and cardiac responses towards different novel objects in juvenile female and male pigs (Sus scrofa). Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 215, pp. 13–20.
  42. Zupan, M., Janczak, A.M., Framstad, T., Zanella, A.J. (2012). The effect of biting tails and having tails bitten in pigs. Physiol Behav. 106(5), pp. 638–644. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.04.025.
  43. Hessing, M., Hagelsø, A., Schouten, W., Wiepkema, P., van Beek, J. (1994). Individual behavioral and physiological strategies in pigs. Physiol. Behav. Vol. 55(1), pp. 39–46. DOI:10.1016/0031- 9384(94)90007-8.
  44. Kranendonk, G., Hopster, H., Fillerup, M., Ekkel, E., Mulder, E., Taverne, M. (2006). Cortisol administration to pregnant sows affects novelty-induced locomotion, aggressive behaviour, and blunts gender differences in their offspring. Horm. Behav. Vol. 49 (5), pp. 663–672. DOI:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2005.12.008.
  45. Dilger, R.N. (2017). Young pigs exhibit differential exploratory behavior during novelty preference tasks in response to age, sex, and delay. Behavioural Brain Research. Vol. 321, pp. 50–60.
  46. Brajon, S., Laforest, J., Schmitt, O., Devillers, N. (2016). A preliminary study of the effects of individual response to challenge tests and stress induced by humans on learning performance of weaned piglets (Sus scrofa). Behav Processes. Vol. 129, pp. 27–36. DOI:10.1016/j.beproc.2016.05.007.
  47. Friel, M., Kunc, H., Griffin, K., Asher, L., Collins, L. (2019). Positive and negative contexts predict duration of pig vocalisations. Sci. Rep. Vol. 9 (1), 2062 p. DOI:10.1038/s41598-019-38514-w.
  48. Verbeek, E., Dicksved, J., Keeling, L. (2021). Supplementation of Lactobacillus early in life alters attention bias to threat in piglets. Sci. Rep. Vol. 11(1), 10130 p. DOI:10.1038/s41598-021-89560-2.
  49. Jansen, J., Bolhuis, J.E., Schouten, W.G.P., Spruijt, B.M., Wiegant, V.M. (2009). Spatial learning in pigs: effects of environmental enrichment and individual characteristics on behaviour and performance. Anim. Cogn. Vol. 12 (2), pp. 303–315. DOI:10.1007/ s10071-008-0191-y.
  50. Kecman, J., Neu, J., Göres, N., Voß, B., Rosner, F. (2022). Genetic aspects for the behaviour of lactating sows towards humans. Animal. Vol. 16 (7), pp. 1005–1059. DOI:10.1016/j.animal.2022.100559.
  51. Panksepp, J. (2007). Neuroevolutionary sources of laughter and social joy: Modeling primal human laughter in laboratory rats. Behav. Brain Sci. Vol. 182, pp. 231–244.
  52. Horback, K. (2014). Nosing around: Play in pigs. Anim. Behav. & Cogn. Vol. 2, pp. 186–196.
  53. Held, S.D., Špinka, M. (2011). Animal play and animal welfare. Anim. Behav. Vol. 81, pp. 891–899.
  54. Hausberger, M., Fureix, C., Bourjade, M., Wessel-Robert, S., Richard-Yris, M.A. (2012). On the signifcance of adult play: what does social play tell us about adult horse welfare? Naturwissenschafen. Vol. 99(4), pp. 291–302.
  55. Martin, P., Caro, T.M. (1985). On the functions of play and its role in development in Advances in the Study of Behavior. Orlando. Academic Press. pp. 59–103.
  56. Zupan, M., Rehn, T., de Oliveira, D., Malovrh, Š., Keeling, L. (2019). Individual play patterns stimulated by a familiar object are group-driven. Sci. Rep. Vol. 9 (1), 6092 p. DOI:10.1038/s41598-019-42382-9.
  57. Lourdes, L., Manteca, I.X., Camerlink, I. Lonch, P. (2018). Pre-weaning environmental enrichment increases piglets’ object play behaviour on a large scale commercial pig farm. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 202, pp. 7–12.
  58. Weller, J., Camerlink, I., Turner, S., Farish, M., Arnott, G. (2019). Socialisation and its effect on play behaviour and aggression in the domestic pig (Sus scrofa). Sci Rep. Vol. 9 (1), 4180 p. DOI:10.1038/ s41598-019-40980-1.
  59. Weller, J., Turner, S., Farish, M., Camerlink, I., Arnott, G. (2020). The Association Between Play Fighting and Information Gathering during Subsequent Contests. Sci. Rep. Vol. 10(1), 1133 p. DOI:10.1038/ s41598-020-58063-x.
  60. Zupan, M., Rehn, T., de Oliveira, D., Keeling, L. (2016). Promoting positive states: the effect of early human handling on play and exploratory behaviour in pigs. Animal. Vol. 10(1), pp. 135–141. DOI:10.1017/ S1751731115001743.
  61. Magnani, D., Cafazzo, S., Calà, P, Costa, L. (2012). Searching for differences in the behavioural response of piglet groups subjected to novel situations. Behav. Processes. Vol. 89, pp. 68–73. DOI:10.1016/j. beproc.2011.10.019.
  62. Rzezniczek, M., Gygax, L. (2015). Comparison of the behaviour of piglets raised in an artificial rearing system or reared by the sow. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 165, pp. 57–65. DOI:10.1016/j. applanim.2015.01.009.
  63. Bolhuis, J.E., Schouten, W.G.P., de Leeuw, J.A., Schrama, J.W., Wiegant, V.M. (2004). Individual coping characteristics, rearing conditions and behavioural flexibility in pigs. Behav. Brain. Res. Vol. 152(2), pp. 351–360. DOI:10. 1016/j.bbr.2003.10.024.
  64. Bolhuis, J.E., Parmentier, H.K., Schouten, W.G.P., Schrama, J.W., Wiegant, V.M. (2003). Effects of housing and individual coping characteristics on immune responses of pigs. Physiol. Behav. Vol. 79(2), pp. 289– 296. DOI:10.1016/ s0031-9384(03)00090-8.
  65. Kuijpers, J., Schrama, F., van Eerdenburg, W., Schouten, M. (2002). Can we predict behaviour in pigs?: Searching for consistency in behaviour over time and across situations Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 75, Issue 4, pp. 293–305. DOI:10.1016/ s0168-1591(01)00203-9.
  66. Di, Giminiani P., Nasirahmadi, A., Malcolm, E., Leach, M., Edwards, S. (2017). Docking piglet tails: How much does it hurt and for how long? Physiol. Behav. Vol. 182, pp. 69–76. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.09.028.
  67. Atkinson, M., Amezcua, R., DeLay, J., Widowski, T., Friendship, R. (2017). Evaluation of the effect of umbilical hernias on play behaviors in growing pigs. Can Vet. J., Vol. 58, pp. 1065–1072. PMCID: PMC5603916 PMID: 28966356
  68. Jensen, K., Oksbjerg, N., Jørgensen, E. (1994). Dietary salbutamol and level of protein: effects on the acute stress response in pigs. Physiol Behav. Vol. 55(2), pp. 375–379. DOI:10.1016/0031-9384(94)90149-x.
  69. Lensink, B., Leruste, H., Le, Roux T., Bizeray-Filoche, D. (2009). Relationship between the behaviour of sows at 6 months old and the behaviour and performance at farrowing. Animal. Vol. 3(1), pp. 128–134. DOI:10.1017/S175173 1108003261
  70. Tobias, E., Krause, C., Schielzeth, M.H.. (2021). Novelty at second glance: a critical appraisal of the novel object paradigm based on meta-analysis. Animal Behaviour. Vol. 180, pp. 123–142.
  71. Elizabeth, J., Bolhuis, Johan J., Zonderland, T., de Souza, B.A.S. (2013). Relations between peripheral and brain serotonin measures and behavioural responses in a novelty test in pigs. Physiology & Behavior. Vol. 118, pp. 88–96.
  72. Kells, N., Beausoleil, N., Johnson, C., Sutherland, M. (2018). Evaluation of Different Gases and Gas Combinations for On-Farm Euthanasia of Pre-Weaned Pigs. Animals (Basel). Vol. 8(3), 40 p. DOI:10.3390/ ani8030040.
PDF icon poroshinska_1_2023.pdf577.5 KB